Scripture: Philippians 3:4-14
I saw a Facebook post this past week that happily exclaimed that Christmas is only twelve weeks away. Now on one hand that is still 80-some days. It is not exactly right around the corner, but at the same time-it’s right around the corner! My parents are huge Christmas list people. Right around now they start asking us to give them Christmas lists. Since my son Connor’s birthday is on December 22nd as well, we tried to get a jump on it this year and a couple of weeks ago I took him to Toys R Us. We took pictures of him holding the things he would want the most. The goal was to limit it to ten, and I am amazed that we ended up with only twelve pictures (as opposed to everything in the store!) . They also wanted us to do the same thing for Callie, but that is a little harder. She is one. I already know it does not matter what we or anyone else get her, because for her playing with the empty box and wrapping paper is going to be just or more exciting for her than whatever was in those boxes. I know it is a common behavior for young toddlers, and I know I am telling on my daughter a bit but she loves to play with garbage. Right now, we have to make sure that if a trashcan gets mostly full we empty it because if not, Callie will get into it and pull whatever is on top out. It is a frustrating experience to leave her alone for less than 30 seconds, only to come back to find all kinds of garbage all over the floor. I realize that it is a phase and after being told “no” enough times, she will EVENTUALLY stop. However, for right now it is a weekly frustration. One of the reasons it is frustrating is because it is not like she lacks for toys, books, or something to do. She has so much available to her that is better than garbage. There is so much more that she could do instead of just taking trash out of the garbage can. I know that one day she will get this, but for now I can do is shake my head, tell her no, and help her pick up the mess that she just made.
I mention this peculiar habit of my toddler because I cannot help but picture her by the garbage can when I read this morning’s scripture. In this scripture Paul compares all things to garbage compared to knowing Christ. Given that analogy and given the image of a toddler playing with trash, I cannot help but wonder if God has as similar view of us. Does God shake His head, tell us no, and then help us pick up the mess we just made? Because if we are being objective, we kind of do play with garbage.
I have absolutely nothing against entertainment. I have no problem with reading, watching TV, or playing video games. I think that partaking in those kinds of leisure activities is important for us. However, we as an American society, have a bit of a problem with entertainment. We sort of over do it. The average American spends five hours a day watching TV. When you calculate it all out this means that the average American spends 2 ½ months of every year doing nothing but watching TV. From there statistics only get more mind boggling. For instance, this year Netflix, the service that allows TV shows and movies to be streamed on demand, saw its users watch 5 billion hours of content in a three month time period. That number staggers the mind. This means that Netflix users watched enough content in a three year window to fill the time span of 570,776 years! Perhaps the most crazy entertainment statistic comes from the world of video games. Ten years ago the World of Warcraft launched. This is easily the overall most popular video game of the past ten years, and there are still millions of people who play it today. World of Warcraft uses have collectively spent 6 million years playing the game. That is a lot of time spent playing a video game. Again, I have nothing against spending time doing those activities, but we have to confess that we as a whole might spend a little too much time doing those things. Netflix has over 27 million subscribers imagine if those people who spent 5 billion hours watching shows in a three month period had spent just a fifth of that time doing something to help someone else. That would be 1 billion hours spend making the world a better place. Think how much of a difference that could have made. Think of how much God’s love could have been shared and put into action with that time. There is nothing wrong with entertainment options in moderation, but we should be aware if we are doing that. Because when compared to God’s love, when compared to the important work of sharing that love with others, and when compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord, watching TV is kind of like playing with garbage. We are settling for something far less than the joy and fulfillment we could have.
What is really interesting though is that in this morning’s scripture Paul is not talking about doing trivial things. Paul’s examples of the things he considers worthless compared to knowing Christ was not the first century equivalent of watching reality TV. No, what Paul says is now worthless compared to knowing Christ is everything that was most valuable to him, it is the very things that he has spent a life time working for and investing in. These are the things that Paul found pride, meaning, and confidence in. He lists these things in verse 4 through 6 of this morning’s scripture. First Paul tackles his national identity, he gives his background and calls himself a “Hebrew of Hebrews.” For many people today, patriotism is important but it may have been even more important in the first century. For many, one’s nationality or tribe was everything it truly did inform and define who they were as people. Someone in Paul’s shoes would have taken great pride in their ancestry-and for a time he did. He allowed this pedigree to define who he was and how he understood himself. Yet after meeting Jesus, Paul considers this a loss. We are challenged in the same way. Where does our national identity compare to our faith identity? If we had to choose between being an American or being a Christian, which one is more important to us?
Paul also mentions that his status as a Pharisee is considered a loss. Now often we just think of Pharisees as the bad guys in the gospels, so we do not always appreciate what that means. The Pharisees get a bad rap, and it might be somewhat deserved, but we should respect how seriously and devoted they were to their faith. The Pharisees were the biblical scholars and theologians of their day. They devoted themselves to knowing the Torah (the first five books of the bible). They memorized large sections of it and they were well versed in its application. The Pharisees were truly the experts on God’s law. Being a Pharisee was not a hereditary title it was something that was earned and had to be mastered. Being a Pharisee required commitment and work. There is research going to see how true this is, but there is a popular theory that states it requires 10,000 hours to be an expert at something. We do not know all of the details of the training that Paul went through to be a Pharisee, but I think it is fair to say that he probably put in at least 10,000 hours. This was a major commitment, something that Paul had dedicated his life towards, but even this he considered garbage compared to knowing Christ. Again, can we say the same?
The point of this scripture is that knowing Christ should be the most important thing to us. The most important thing, period. No qualifiers, no exceptions, no and or buts. Christ is most important. We should strive to get to a place in our faith, where we can be like Paul and say that Jesus is so important to us, the value of his love is so great, and we hold him as Lord so high that everything else seems like garbage in comparison. Please hear me on this: being a parent, our professions, the sports we play, and passions we enjoy are not wrong. There is nothing wrong with taking pride in something or being passionate about something, but we have to keep it all in perspective. Christ is first. Christ should be so far in first, that second place cannot even see his taillights.
This is a challenge for us because we have so many competing voices in our lives telling us the opposite. In our schools and our jobs we are constantly getting the message to work harder, and it shows. American workers are the most overworked workers in the world. Of those with full time jobs, 86% of men and 66% of women work more than 40 hours a week. Americans work on average 137 more hours per year than the Japanese and 499 hours more per year than the French. We are pressured to work more and make our jobs be our main priority. Work is important, but Jesus not a job should be our priority in life. In the same way, as a young parent, I feel the pressure to put kids first in everything. There is a strong marketing push and a cultural expectation that children come first. There is an unspoken understanding that to be a good parent, my entire life should revolve around my kids. I love my children more than I can adequately express with words, but they should not be my world. They should not be my highest priority, because in doing so I am not adequately modeling the kind of life I want them to live. Nothing surpasses the knowledge of know Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.
In our lives, in every aspect of our lives, Jesus should come first. When he does not, we are kind of like toddlers playing with garbage. We are settling for something far less, than what we could have. When Jesus is not first we give up a love, peace, and joy that can only come from through knowing Him. When Jesus is not first, we do not live life to its fullest because we are missing that which gives us true life. We have so many voices calling out to us in our lives, so many distractions, so many things that vie for the top spot in our lives. That is why days like today are so vitally important for our faith. Today we partake in the Sacrament of Communion to remember why Jesus is worth so much more than everything else. Today we remember how very much he loves us, and how out of that great love he was willing to suffer and give it all on our behalf. We remember why Jesus is Lord and Savior. We remember when he saved us, and we remember that is love for us never fails, never runs out, and never ever gives up. We remember.
As we take the bread and the juice may you remember. May you examine your life. Your waking, working, everyday life and may you be honest with yourself where Jesus ranks in it. May you make him the Lord of your whole life, may He be the most important thing to you. May your prayer, be the same as that of Paul’s in this mornings scripture. May your prayer be “I want to know Christ-yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings become more like him.”